The Civic Light Opera’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is that rarest of breeds — the truly manly musical. Mountain-brewed with a panoramic sweep, it’s the kind of tuneful show that had the audience humming as they went out the Benedum Center doors.
Not that the tunes were not that familiar, not like Broadway’s groundbreaking role model, Oklahoma!, but they felt familiar. Of course, I grew up with movie musicals and the campy, rough-and-tumble 1954 film was one of my favorites, with some of the best male dancers of the day, including New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d’Amboise, soon-to-be jazz legend Matt Mattox, the original Dream Curley from Oklahoma!, Marc Platt, and the future Riff from Jerome Robbins’ film version of West Side Story, Russ Tamblyn.
It was great to see how well the CLO’s brothers stood up against that memory. They were a bracing lot who could easily negotiate the multitude of tricks and tumbling that director/choreographer Sha Newman threw their way and handily showed how much dance technique has progressed over the years.
The steps themselves were direct and often repetitive, all deliberately designed to elicit applause — which they did in numbers like Goin’ Courtin’ and Social Dance. With a bigger budget, they could have benefitted from the prop dance specialty numbers that Susan Stroman (Crazy For You, Contact) does so well.
While dance is the driving force behind Seven, it has a folksy tale of a mountain man who sweeps a woman off her feet in a single day and the six brothers who attempt to do the same with disastrous results. Fraught with a few setbacks, including a some fights and an avalanche, it produced a friendly spirit along the way and and ended with a bracing camaraderie among all, including the audience.
It benefitted from an exhilarating score by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer, with a couple of new and engaging songs by Al Kasha & Joel Hirschhorn and played with rousing brio by Tom Helm and the orchestra. Anna Louizos’ scenery boasted a great view of the mountains, which was cleverly altered from the farm to the town to a nearby mountain view by movable trees, although it was apparently created for a smaller stage. John McLain’s lighting contributed to the appropriate moods along the way.
Although Seven told of hardy American pioneers, it was hardly a pioneering musical. However Lawrence Kasha & David Landay tinkered with it for the 1982 Broadway version. So what started as a old-fashioned, pre-feminist production (A Woman Ought To Know Her Place), evolved into a discovery zone for male star George Dvorsky.
He brought his best Howard Keel bravado with him, portraying the leading man with unequivocal authority and a booming voice. But his sensitive portrayal of that same A Woman Ought To Know, with the support of a few new lyrics, made his Adam a three-dimensional character.
That left Mamie Parris, who was a unquestionably a modern-day Millie, taking on a bevy of brothers with charm and determination and being a role model for the brides. It was also a taxing song-and-dance role, where she took charge whether singing a lullaby to her baby in Glad That You Were Born or leading the way in Goin’ Courtin.’
No doubt this was a lucky Seven for the CLO.
FYI: A montage from the original film.